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The Life of Jesus - Series 1: Episode 3

The ancestry of Jesus

| Martin Charlesworth
Matthew 1:1-17
Luke 3:21-38

Matthew wrote for the Jews. The genealogy of Jesus is traced back to Abraham, the father of the nation. Matthew traces the ancestry through Joseph but Luke through Mary. Ancestry was important to Jews.

Matthew wrote for the Jews. The genealogy of Jesus is traced back to Abraham, the father of the nation. Matthew traces the ancestry through Joseph but Luke through Mary. Ancestry was important to Jews.


Hello, welcome to the third episode in Series 1. I am going to share with you the third explanation or description of the coming of Jesus in the Gospels.

Introduction and Recap

If you have heard the first two episodes, you will remember that we started with Luke and his introduction, and then last time we looked at John and now we are going to look at Matthew. They are all totally different. They are approaching the same event from a totally different points of view. Luke described the process of writing, as his starting point, and he is speaking more like a historian and a researcher who is looking for eyewitness evidence. He didn't see the events of Jesus' life himself and so he is compiling a historical gospel from accurate eyewitness testimony. John, on the other hand, gave a great cosmic picture of Jesus as the Word who was there in eternity with God, became flesh and who dwelt among us, and brought light into our lives. He spoke of John the Baptist and the whole process of being born again or becoming a child of God through Jesus' coming. It is a really grand introduction that John gives.

Now we come to Matthew, and as I mentioned in the first episode, Matthew is very focused on the Jewish aspects of Jesus and on communicating to the Jewish people. Matthew is one of the twelve Apostles, sometimes called Levi in the text and he writes from a very Jewish point of view. His starting point is characteristically Jewish and he brings a genealogy of Jesus, or an ancestry, going back many generations right to the beginning of the Jewish race. I am going to use this text as the basis for this episode. There are two genealogies of Jesus in the Gospels - one in Luke 3, which is also very important and is a parallel passage to the one that we are going to look at in Matthew 1: 1 - 17. 

Ancestry, family history, genealogy means different things to different people. For many people in Western countries their ancestry is relatively insignificant. Some people don't know too much about their ancestry. For people in many developing countries, in many tribal cultures, and many cultures with multi-ethnic communities, their family history and their ancestry is very important, especially if that is connected to a particular land and particular places. We all approach this from a slightly different point of view but the way I am going to approach it is looking at it through a Jewish lens. For the Jewish people, ancestry was incredibly important and throughout the Old Testament there are a number of genealogies. The Jews trace their connections all the way back to Abraham, the father of their nation very firmly and so genealogy is something that is very important to the Jews. It is important in identifying Jesus' place in Jewish history, and also his place in prophetic history, as we shall see. There are lots of key prophecies in the Old Testament that apply very specifically to Jesus, and the genealogies help us to work out how that connection is made.

With those words of introduction I am going to read Matthew's genealogy. It is the sort of passage that you would very rarely hear anyone talk about in public teaching in a local church situation, but as you know, the Word Online project, with the life of Jesus, is covering the whole of the four Gospels - everything they write about is important to us, and has significance. Sometimes that significance is very obvious to us and sometimes it is less obvious. This is an example when it is a little bit less obvious, but once we uncover it, it becomes really interesting. 

Matthew 1:1 - 17

1This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham: 2Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, 3Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar, Perezwasthe father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram, 4Ram the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon, 5Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, 6and Jesse the father of King David. David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah's wife, 7Solomonwasthe father of Rehoboam, Rehoboam the father of Abijah, Abijah the father of Asa, 8Asa the father of Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat the father of Jehoram, Jehoram the father of Uzziah, 9Uzziah the father of Jotham, Jotham the father of Ahaz, Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, 10Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, Manasseh the father of Amon, Amon the father of Josiah, 11and Josiah the father of Jeconiah and his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon. 12After the exile to Babylon: Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel, Shealtielwasthe father of Zerubbabel, 13Zerubbabel the father of Abihud, Abihud the father of Eliakim, Eliakim the father of Azor, 14Azor the father of Zadok, Zadok the father of Akim, Akim the father of Elihud, 15Elihud the father of Eleazar, Eleazar the father of Matthan, Matthan the father of Jacob, 16and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah. 17Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah.’

Matthew 1:1-17, NIV

Descendant of Abraham and David

This is an amazing genealogy which is very carefully structured. In Jewish genealogies it was a convention that you could miss out generations, and so some have noted that there are some generations missed out here for particular reasons. It still provides a complete genealogy that is structured in a way that the starting point is Abraham, and the first key marker along the way is King David. Jesus is described in verse 1 as the son of David, and the son of Abraham. The son of Abraham makes him Jewish. The son of David is critical in terms of the prophecies given to David as king of Israel, which we will come to in a minute. Then we see the genealogy go through David's family. He was the second king of Israel, and it goes through his son Solomon, and through the monarchy of the descendants of David, right the way up until the time of the exile of the Jewish people, when the nation-state was overthrown by the Babylonians, and the monarchy was abolished. In the final section, we see the genealogy continue until it comes to Joseph, Jesus' stepfather, Mary and Jesus, who is called the Messiah.

Significance of Genealogy in the Old Testament

There is a great significance to this genealogy and in order to establish the significance, I am going to refer to several key passages in the Old Testament that tell us the significance of some individuals mentioned here. First of all, Genesis 12: 1 - 3 and this describes the call of Abraham who is the father of the Jewish people. He is the first person we can describe as a Jew, in a defined ethnic sense. He is called and he is seen as the father of the nation. In these verses, this is what is said: Genesis 12: 1

‘The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father's household to the land I will show you. 2I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; and I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”’

Genesis 12:1-3, NIV

This is the foundational promise for the whole Jewish nation that promises three things: it promises Abraham that his name will continue in the sense that he will have a son - he was childless at the time - and then his son Isaac was born; that from his son will come a nation, a people who will have a land – that is the people of Israel in the land of Israel; and that those people will be a blessing to all the nations of the earth. That promise, incidentally, was fulfilled directly through Jesus, because Jesus is the Israelite, or the son of Abraham, who brings the blessing of the Gospel to all the nations of the earth. That is stated very clearly in the New Testament in the book of Galatians 3.

We now need to move forward because we notice that Matthew identifies Abraham as a key ancestor of Jesus, but also David. This is tremendously important because it is the vital key to understand the significance of the genealogies. David was the king that God called miraculously to rule the people of Israel. There had been a king chosen by human pressure beforehand, Saul, the first king of the country, who had ended up in terrible failure and disaster. Then God called David, a shepherd boy from Bethlehem, from the tribe of Judah, and called him into monarchy. He became a very successful king of Israel. The significance of David wasn't just in his own lifetime, because it says in 2 Samuel 7: 16, that God gave a particular promise to David through the prophet Nathan. This is a very interesting and significant promise, which is foundational to everything that follows. Here is the central promise, in verse 16. There is a wider passage, more details that you can read there, but I will just give you the central verse, verse 16:

‘“Your house”’(that is, your dynasty, or your family as kings)‘“Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’”

2 Samuel 7:16, NIV

That means permanently. It is an unconditional promise that David's successors will be kings for the people of Israel, and particularly that this kingdom will be reflecting God's Kingdom. As this genealogy clearly indicates in Matthew 1, David's successors, his son Solomon, and then his family line, were kings of Israel for a long period of time. Interestingly enough, that came to an end when the Babylonians came and they forced the people into exile, and the monarchy was abolished. There was no son of David, no descendant of David, ruling the country. Yet it had been promised that there would be a permanent monarchy, an eternal dynasty. So, what had happened? There had been an interruption as a result of the sin of the nation.

Then comes the words of the prophets, which is the other key, and leads us towards Jesus very clearly. The prophets say on many occasions, and I will quote you one example just to indicate this, that there is going to come a descendant of David, a biological descendant of David, in the future, who will be the ultimate fulfilment of God's Kingdom purposes and of that prophetic promise in 2 Samuel 7: 16. Here is one example: Isaiah 9: 6 and 7

6For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.’

Isaiah 9:6-7, NIV

Isaiah's prophecy is followed by many other prophecies in the Old Testament that indicate that there is going to be a future king, descended from David, who will be the ultimate fulfilment of that prophecy of a permanent kingship. This turns out to be more than about the nation of Israel. It turns out to be God's rule on earth that is at stake. Jesus comes and he preaches about the Kingdom of God being at hand, arriving at the time when Jesus came. He is that Davidic king because he is descended from David, and he is uniquely called to be the Messiah and the king.

A Cursed Branch of David

But there is another twist in the story. This genealogy apparently shows Jesus to be the biological son of Abraham and David, but there is a mention in verse 11 of a descendant of David called Jeconiah. It is something very easy to pass over, but Jeconiah is another name for one of the last rulers of the country before they went into exile. His full name is Jehoiachin, but Jeconiah in the New Testament. The nation was going badly wrong then and the prophet Jeremiah prophesied concerning Jehoiachin, or Jeconiah, in Jeremiah 22: 30 with the following, terrible prophecy:

‘This is what the Lord says: “Record this man as if childless, a man who will not prosper in his lifetime, for none of his offspring will prosper, none will sit on the throne of David or rule anymore in Judah.”’

Jeremiah 22:30, NIV

This creates a complication for the genealogy of Matthew. Matthew is speaking to Jews who would know about the prophecy of Jeremiah 22: 30. They would know that Jeconiah or Jehoiachin, had been cursed by God because of the terrible disobedience of himself and his immediate predecessors. That particular branch of David's family was not going to be the branch that would receive the promise of 2 Samuel 7:16 where there would be an eternal kingdom established. It looks as though here, Joseph, the stepfather of Jesus, is descended from Jeconiah or Jehoiachin, and therefore, if Jesus is going to be the biological descendant of David, it doesn't look as though he is the biological descendant through Joseph, in terms of the genealogy and also, of course, he is not the biological descendant of David through Joseph because Joseph is his stepfather. We know for certain from Matthew and Luke's accounts, that Mary conceived Jesus before she had any sexual relationship with Joseph. She was truly a virgin. Matthew would understand the paradox of this genealogy and he would understand that his first readers, the Jewish readers, would understand it too.

Another Genealogy

There is a missing component here, and that missing component is in fact Mary's genealogy, which is not mentioned here. This is why it is so helpful to compare different passages in the Bible, and different parallel texts. We have in Luke 3, very interestingly, a second genealogy of Jesus. I am not going to read the whole text because our primary text is in Matthew, but the passage is Luke 3: 23 - 38. Luke describes the genealogy of Jesus going back to David, going back to Abraham, and even going back to Adam, to the first man. He clearly describes Jesus as a descendant of David but, notably, through a different branch of David's family, through his son Nathan, rather than through his son Solomon. We all know that families have many different branches and they branch out over a period of time. One branch of David's family through Solomon and Jehoiachin or Jeconiah, has been blocked or cursed. This cannot be the branch of the family from which the Messiah, or the fulfilment of 2 Samuel 7:16 can come. But there is another branch of the family - through David's son, Nathan. The question really is, ‘whose genealogy is this?’ Mary is not specifically mentioned here, but in verse 23 it says,

‘Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry. He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph, the son of Heli.’

Luke 3:23, NIV

The genealogy is different. There are two different genealogies being described in these two accounts, and Luke is well aware of that. He writes after Matthew, according to the understanding of the order of writing that I proposed in the first episode. Probably what we have here is Mary's ancestry described discreetly. It wasn't appropriate culturally, in those days, to describe ancestry through the mother. The father was the head of the family and the source of ancestry in these ancestral lines. In this case, of course, it is Joseph. One distinct possibility here is that Mary was an heiress in her own right, because she didn't have any brothers to inherit, and that Heli adopted Joseph as his son. It may be that what Luke intended here is that Jesus was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph - the son-in-law of Heli. Literary convention prevents this being stated outwardly, but this makes sense, because the biological connection to David can only come through Mary, because of the virgin birth. Joseph has no direct biological connection with Jesus.

This is an interesting example of a complex issue that most people never really think about in the Gospels, and find difficult to understand. But if you are in a culture where ancestry and genealogy and family ties matter, you will know that the exact details of genealogy, particularly related to inheritance, are incredibly important: Who is in the family? Who is going to inherit? What does the will say? Who has got any legal right through family connection? This produces endless disputes and debates in many societies. Ancestry and blood connection really does matter. It really mattered to the Jewish people. Matthew knew when he was writing his genealogy that he was creating a paradox and showing, in a sense, that Joseph could not have been the biological father of Jesus, because his branch of David's family was one that had been blocked. It could not be the branch through which the Messiah, the son of David, would come. But that was not true of the branch that came through Nathan, the son of David, as represented by Mary, the biological successor in that family. We also know in Luke 1:32, when the angel speaks to Mary, he says these words, speaking of Jesus, the angel promising the birth of Jesus,

‘“32He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David,”’

Luke 1:32, NIV

It is interesting that the angel says to Mary that Jesus will sit on the throne of David. The implication of this to Mary would be that she understood that her biological connection to David was the basis of that possibility because she would know this is a virgin birth and her husband was not the biological father.


This is one of the most complex subjects that we look at in our study of Jesus but because we are committed to looking at every text - and every text matters - we need to go into these things. We find some fascinating truths come out. We see that the prophecies of the Old Testament concerning a greater son of David, sitting on the throne of David, are fulfilled in Jesus. In fact, as we go through the Gospels we will find that Jesus is described as the Son of David by the crowds, by people seeking healing, and this becomes one of his titles. Ancestry, family connection and rights really matter in most societies. For me, I am interested in ancestry. I have a written ancestry of both sides of my family in my possession in my home, written up by my father, who researched it; what the branches of my family are, are known to me, and many of my relatives are in Canada. There was an emigration of a branch of my family to Canada. My mother was a Canadian citizen, my father was a British citizen, and so I have those two branches of the family very clearly in mind, and I can connect myself with their stories very easily. That matters to me. That gives me a sense of identity. Many Western people have far less capacity to do that and to identify their family line. I don't know what the situation is for you personally, but for Jews ancestry really mattered. That is why both Matthew and Luke took time to identify the ancestry of Jesus. It appears that we have the ancestry along Joseph's line, the stepfather, and the actual biological ancestry through Mary, Jesus' biological mother.

We can say of Jesus, that he is part of the Jewish people, a son of Abraham. We can say Jesus truly is a son of David; he is descended from David's specific family. We can say that this lays a vital foundation for his claim to bring in the Kingdom of God. He turns out to be the king that God the Father has appointed to rule over the Church, as it grows, and ultimately to rule over the whole world. Jesus' opening comments in Mark's Gospel is a good place for us to end, with all this information about the genealogy in mind. In Mark 1: 14 and 15 this is what it says at the very beginning of Jesus' ministry:

14After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has drawn near. Repent and believe the good news!”’

Mark 1:14-15, NIV

We have gained a little understanding about that Kingdom of God and about the genealogy that supports it through this episode, and through studying the genealogy of Matthew, and referring to the genealogy of Luke. Thanks for joining us. I hope you join us for the next episode.

Study Questions

The following questions have been provided to facilitate discussion or further reflection. Please feel free to answer any, or all the questions. Each question has been assigned a category to help guide you.

  • Exploring Faith
    Exploring Faith
    1. How important is your family history to you or your family? Talk about your family tree if you have one.
  • Discipleship
    1. What does knowing that Jesus is the Son of David and God’s appointed king mean to you?
    2. What foundations are laid by Jesus being Jewish, a descendent of Abraham and son of David?
  • Further Study
    Further Study
    1. Why was Jesus’ family history important to Matthew? What is the importance for us?
    2. Why is Joseph's family history here if it doesn't link through to Jesus because of the 'block'?
    3. What are the main differences in the two family histories given?
    4. Using the tagging system, trace references to ‘Abraham’ and/or ‘David’ through the Word Online material.
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